Alfred Place Baptist Church

5:12 Do Not Swear

James 5:12 “Above all, my brothers, do not swear – not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.”

“Above all, my brothers, do not swear”. You might think that the principal focus of these words in on bad language, and certainly this is a very common phenomenon. The most educated staff-rooms in the town are full of cries of ‘O God!’ and ‘Christ!’. The youngest children, boys and girls, swear constantly. The name of the Lord, taken within these walls with such reverence, is disdained in the streets around us. I hate to hear it on television. It seems to me one of the best arguments not to have a television set. The ancient sin is as common as ever. Welsh-speaking people seem to be worse than any others with their foul language, but we must all begin with ourselves and watch our own speech. Swearing isn’t the worst of sins but it breaches the third commandment, not to take the name of God in vain. As J.I.Packer says, “Rage overcomes us all sometimes, and it is better, no doubt, at such times to speak violently and blasphemously than to act violently and go berserk. But if you dwell often on the truth that God is Lord and orders everything, even the frustrations, for our sanctification, you will find yourself able increasingly, even in the most maddening moments, to ‘keep yourself cool’ and that is best of all” (“The Ten Commandments”, Living Studies, 1983, p.41)

But the theme of this verse is not dirty language but swearing an oath, calling on the name of God – or a substitute for God – to endorse that one is saying the truth, or that one will keep one’s word. You may think that this is a very abstract theme quite remote from your own experience or your future. You would be quite wrong to come to that conclusion. Let me give you some contemporary illustrations. The United States of America has just gone through a horrid chapter in its history when its President has been tried for perjury, that is, lying under an oath took, solemnly swearing that he would tell the truth. There is a move on to change the traditional Coronation Oath of our own monarch so that its distinctive Christian, let alone Protestant features, are removed. There will be a battle over this in the next few years, and I cannot see us being happy with the result – but I am not a prophet. Oaths are not unimportant. Or think again of this case: your father is a Freemason, and his father before him, and now he expects you to join the Lodge. But you have become a Christian, and you know that in order to become a candidate for the first degree of Masonry you have to take their Oath not to betray the secrets of this degree “under no less a penalty … than that of having my throat cut across, my tongue cut out by the roots, and my body buried in the sands of the sea at low water mark. So help me God.” Only after swearing that oath will you be “restored to the Light.” Can you go through such a ceremony in the light of this verse?

Imagine again you were a Kikuyu Christian in Kenya at the time of the struggle for independence forty years ago, and your family or your village were asked by the Mau Mau to go through an oath-making ceremony to be faithful to them. You know that there were Christian Kikuyus would not swear that oath and were subsequently murdered. Or on a mundane level, what if you were to appear in court contesting a traffic violation, should you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? There are some Christians who, on the basis of our text, refuse to do so. Are they right? Or think of marriage vows, and how even in a civil marriage there is a solemnity about those official promises. Legally, whether you have made a vow in church calling on God’s name or simply made your promises before the representative of the State what you said is treated equally seriously. You can’t dismiss them – “just sounds: mere vocables.”

You can see in that sample of examples that this is a very practical issue. But it is important enough for James to be repeating here words that were spoken by the Lord in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:34-37, “But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Notice also the prominence James seems to give to it: “Above all, my brothers, do not swear”. What does that ‘above all’ mean? He has been referring to a number of sins in this letter – discrimination and favouritism, cursing, boasting, oppression, murder. Surely he does not mean that swearing an oath is the worst of all the sins he has mentioned? No. ‘Above all’ does not mean that this practice is the very depths into which any Christian can fall. It could even mean something as innocuous as ‘let me tell you this’ or ‘I am going to shortly end this letter so finally…’ But think of the context of poor followers of the Lord Jesus living under the rod of the wicked wealthy, and the danger of Christian impatience (v.7), grumbling (v.9) and threatening retaliation. Were some of these abused poor people gathering together secretly and swearing a solemn oath to overthrow their masters? It has happned throughout history. In the first half of the 19th century in Wales the so-called Daughters of Rebecca were groups of men who banded together dressed in women’s garments to mask their identity. They destroyed the hated tollgates which were a harsh tax on Welsh peasant farmers. Could there have been a similar social revolutionary phenomena that James knew about? Could some of these Christian plead that they had to retaliate against their cruel masters because they had sworn an oath of vengeance? Then you can hear the concern in James’ plea, “Above all, my brothers, do not swear…”

1. What is an Oath ?

Oaths are common in our land on ceremonial occasions. There is the Coronation Oath that the new monarch has to swear, or the oath that a president of the USA swears at his inauguration. There are oaths which witnesses swear in a court of law when a man’s liberty is at stake and that might hang upon their evidence. Such oaths go in a direct line to the Bible. Only the forms have changed. Abraham made his servant swear an oath that he would not get a wife for his master’s son Isaac from amongst the pagan Canaanites. “Put your hand under my thigh” he said to his servant (Gen. 24:2). Or Abram again told the king of Sodom that he had taken an oath and raised his hand to the Lord, God Most High, that he would accept nothing from the king (Gen. 14:22). Today we don’t make oaths placing our hands under the thigh of another or raising our hand to heaven. Now people raise their right hands in some countries, or put their hands upon the Bible, or on a cross. A Jew will often take an oath with his head covered. Men will say, “I swear to tell the truth” or they will utter the words, “I do, so help me God.” Whatever the exact language of the oath the essence of such solemn swearing is the same as the Bible.

What then is an oath? Dr Jan Douma defines it thus: “The oath is swearing with appeal to the name of God, who serves as witness that a person is speaking the truth or intends to fulfil a vow” (“The Ten Commandments,” Presbyterian and Reformed, p.87). So it has two sides: it is used to confirm that a person is speaking the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and it also assumes the character of a vow that the powers of an office taken up will be honourably used. The one is assertory – we assert in a court we are truthful men when we swear the oath. Then there is the promissory oath, like the Hippocratic Oath that a doctor might swear. Men and women taking high office swear that they will carefully exercise their authority. These then are official and public oaths.

Then there are also private oaths which might be permissible under certain circumstances. For example, your brother accuses you of letting him down and not keeping your promise. You cannot prove your innocence, and he is stubborn. Your reputation is suffering, and so before your brother you appeal to Almighty God and his knowledge of your heart and his judgment. That is a private oath. I have not heard of anyone doing that in our circles, but you find such examples in the Bible. Think of Laban saying to Jacob, “May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us” (Gen.32:53). Or think of Boaz saying solemnly to Ruth that if another senior cousin does not marry her he will: “as surely as the Lord lives I will do it” (Ruth 3:13). Or think of Elijah telling king Ahab’s servant Obadiah to go to the king and tell him, “Elijah is here.” Ahab has been searching for Elijah throughout the years of the drought. Ahab had sent ambassadors to the surrounding nations, and if they said that Elijah was not hiding there he actually made them solemnly swear this to be so. It would be more than Obadiah’s life was worth for him to announce to the king that Elijah was there and then for Elijah to do another of his disappearing tricks. Elijah can see the tortured look on Obadiah’s face, and the anguish he was in, and so Elijah makes a solemn private vow with him: “Elijah said, ‘As the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today'” (I Kings 18:15).

There are these spontaneous emergencies, and people with a holy intention, soberly and reverently may make a private oath. It is much easier for us to understand and appreciate the need of the oath from a king or a president, or that which a witness makes in a court of law. But there are these cases of private oaths and others too in the Bible. I think that one must be very careful with them. Think of that wild and evil vow that Jephthah made, “whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering” (Judges 11:31). And it was his own daughter! What folly may come from private vows. I earnestly believe that there is no way that a man should make a private oath to a girl that he is going to marry her, and that such words should give them any grounds to consummate the relationship, or all but consummate it. Marriage is a holy ordinance and a public relationship. You must know whether two people are married or not. The marriage promises are public vows between two people. Similarly a man may make a private oath with himself and God that he is never going to marry. That, for me, is equally wrong. I know a student who made such a vow, and when he got to an English university he met a girl and fell in love with her and she with him, and went into agonies of conscience before realising that that had been a sinful oath that he had made. Vows of perpetual chastity are wrong vows. You can only vow each day to be chaste and pure. You cannot say that come what may you intend to be single for the rest of your life. God may not require that of you. We certainly do know that God says that it is better to marry than to burn, and that it is not good for man to be alone.

Private oaths are recorded in the Bible and so we cannot dismiss them, but it would be better if they were made in a church in the presence of office-bearers. Some hostility between two people may be dragging on for months or even years. For example, one deacon’s wife may feel that another deacon’s wife is intensely critical of her, and there is no reconciliation though there have been many pastoral visits to both parties. Then the innocent party may make a solemn oath in the presence of God that she bears no malice whatsoever towards the other woman, and that matter which has simmered for years is finally laid to rest. That would be a blessing in an emergency situation. That is why I plead with you to make some room in your ethical universe for private oaths, even though they have to be handled with extreme care.

2. What Does the Oath Do?

It does two things: firstly it gives honour to God. Whoever swears an oath does so by someone higher than himself, to one whom he appeals to as the final word in all arguments. Now there are cases in Scripture in which men swore by a king or a prophet. For example, Joseph says to Pharaoh, “As surely as Pharaoh lives” (Gen. 42:15). Hannah also swore by the priest Eli, saying, “As surely as you live my lord” (I Sam.1:26). While Abner swears by Saul to that same king that he does not know who the young shepherd-boy David is, saying, “As surely as you live, O king, I don’t know” (I Sam.17:55). The great Puritan theologian, William Perkins, insisted that Joseph sinned by swearing as he did in the name of Pharaoh, or that he had used unnecessary strong language.

The author of the Hebrews says, “Men swear by someone greater than themselves” (Heb.6:16), and for the Christian that is always the Lord God. He knows our hearts with all their imaginations and intentions. He is our judge and can punish every false promise and vow. When we swear on oath we are worshipping this living God. We may stand in a court of law and find a frisson of spiritual excitement rising within us as we calmly say, “I swear before Almighty God…” So I would urge you if you are going to appear in court that you do choose to take an oath rather than make a civil declaration. I feel it is sad that some people reject the God of the Bible before whom they are going to say some solemn words. For the Christian it is an honour to appeal to the living God before who knows whether his words are true. Bring him praise. He is your God. You know him as your Father even if you are the only one in the court who does so.

Secondly, swearing an oath also advances the good of one’s neighbour. The land is full of corruption. People at every level of society have been playing with words. Has the Queen kept her coronation oath? Has the President kept his inauguration oath? Have policemen who have given evidence in the trials of accused terrorists told the truth and nothing but the truth? Are the innocent being called guilty and the guilty being called innocent? If men respected the oath then there would be less injustice in the land. People would recoil before perjuring themselves. They would take their office far more seriously. Could a doctor who had taken the Hippocratic Oath also take part in the killing of an unborn child or assist in the killing of a very ill person? Would there be as many feuds over wills and property if notaries and assessors kept their vows? By the oath we are placed before the face of the God we are all going to meet, to whom we must give account. Can there be justice in a land if reverence for God has gone. We are living, we are told, in a post-modernist age lacking in any absolute standards. If there is no such thing as truth then there is also no such thing as falsehood, even under an oath. It will be hard to prove a man a liar if there is no truth.

Perjury has salutary consequences. The whole governing of the USA dropped for a couple of weeks whilst the highest representatives debated this issue, had the President lied under oath. Even amongst those with no faith in the Lord such an act is considered to be a serious misdemeanour. It used to be considered a sin against God, and so in the Middle Ages it was the ecclesiastical authorities who punished the perjurer. A nation is deceived, and a judge lied to, and one’s neighbour is defrauded by perjury. You were saving the reputation of your husband by claiming that you were driving the car at the time of the accident and not him. Your love for him does not alter the fact that you were lying under oath. When you raise your hand you are calling on God to be your witness. You risk a prison term. More than that, you are calling on God to punish you if you swear falsely.

So swearing an oath should be done very very seldom. If the judge, or the law of the land, or the nation asks us to swear an oath that is acceptable, but it is hideous to lace our speech with oaths, dragging God’s name in for the purpose making us the great raconteurs and centres of attention. Phrases like “God help us”, “As God is my witness”, “So help me God” – we can do without because all they do is cheapen God’s holy name. The more easily men swear, the more easily they tell lies. We swear a true oath very infrequently, and for most of us that would mean that we go through our entire lives never holding high office, nor appearing in court and so without ever swearing an oath, and that would be normal Christian living. “The exceptional and serious character of the oath corresponds to the preciousness of God’s name” (op cit, Douma p.91).

3. How is Taking an Oath Misunderstood?

Should we not eliminate the oath completely? Is not this what James is requesting us to do in our text? “Do not swear … or you will be condemned” (v.12)? Some have taken this stand, the fringe groups in the history of the church, the Albigenses, the Hussites, the Anabaptists and the Quakers. They all appealed to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount and to our text for support. Dr Douma helpfully points out the four objections to that position:-

i] In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says clearly that he did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfil them (Matt.5:17). In many places in the Old Testament the Lord considers it a matter of honour when his people took oaths. God himself says in Isaiah 45:23, “By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked.” The Living God swears an oath. Or again the Lord speaks to the people in Jeremiah 4:2 and he says to them, “if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’ then the nations will be blessed by him and in him they will glory.” So God encourages proper swearing. So are the Lord Jesus and James condemning upright oaths? We do not believe so.

ii] You find oaths in the New Testament. You would have to prove that the Old Testament taking of oaths was something like circumcision or the food laws or the seventh day sabbath – a feature of that dispensation and now done away. But what you find is that the Lord Jesus permitted himself to be placed under oath. When Caiaphas commanded him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt. 26:63) then Jesus answered and said, “Yes, it is as you say.” And in his speaking, and in the letters of the apostle Paul to those who were quite outside the Jewish constituency, they both employed emphatic statements which went far beyond a simple yes or no. Think of the words of Jesus, “Verily verily I say unto you” or “I tell you the truth” (cp.Matt.5:26) and how often did the Lord use the word ‘amen’ . Then the apostle will summon God as his witness and will place himself before the face of God: “I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie” (Gals. 1:20), and, “I call God as my witness” (2 Cors.1:23). We even read of an angel in Revelation 10 verses 5 to 7 who with uplifted hand, swore an oath to God. So we take those references and we conclude that whatever James is saying he is not teaching that every swearing of an oath is prohibited.

iii] The Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is dealing with that religious cleverness which redefines a law of God so that what they are doing is not actually breaking the law. You think of a man making a statement like “I did not have sex with that woman” because of some fine distinctions in his own mind. These religious men in Jesus’ day knew that if they swore an oath invoking the name of the Lord then they were bound by it, so in order to avoid that they would swear “by heaven” or “by the earth” or “by Jerusalem” or “by my head.” They could say words like that and then they need not be so careful about the truth. So oaths had become a means of deception, and Jesus says to them, “Do not swear at all … Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matt. 5:36). So it is also with James, writing to the same group of Jewish people to whom such niceties of distinction were second nature. He is rejecting every kind of swearing that uses an oath for pulling a trick on someone.

iv] There is a difference between the kingdom ruled by Caesar and the kingdom ruled by the Lord Jesus. You might argue that in the church which is Jesus’ kingdom there should be no oaths. I do not agree with that, but it is very different from saying that Caesar should not require his officials to make oaths. We all recognise that the Sermon on the Mount is not a series of laws which the nations of the world should put on their statute books. It is the royal law of the kingdom of God. It is not a coincidence that the Anabaptists who objected to oaths also retreated from public life, that they would not serve in the army or take any office in the state. They lived by non-resistance, turning the other cheek and a simple yes and no. Certainly all of us do that in our relationships with one another within the church, but if a man assaults a member of our family we call for the police to come and we bear witness in court. We give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. We are not to withdraw from the world: we are to be its salt and light. Holding public office, even using the name of our Lord before a judge is a good thing for the world to hear. Anyone who claims that you can have a just and good society without oath swearing is encouraging the secularisation of life. This is the year in which new forms of government are going to take place in Northern Ireland and Scotland and Wales. There is debate going on now concerning whether the elected representatives in the new parliaments and assemblies are going to swear oaths of allegiance, and what form those oaths are going to take, and will they contain a reference to the living God? Will these parliaments and assemblies start the day with the reading of the Bible and prayer – like our own local government still does and the parliament at Westminster? All this is being debated. Will they be autonomous gatherings of men, or will they be conscious of the Great Power above them? In paradise no oaths will be required. There will be no deceitful hearts there. But “we live in a fallen world, in which it is good that at critical moments in their lives, sinful people are confronted with the seriousness of what they are about to say (the assertory oath) or of what they are about to do (the promissory oath)” (op cit, Douma, p.93).

4. Are We to Take Every Oath Seriously?

A man can hold high office, and have great influence and yet be a consummate liar. He can be a member of the cabinet, or a president and have made solemn oaths, but we are not to think from his sinfulness that we are not to take oaths seriously. A judge will stop in his tracks a winking smirking witness whose fans are in the public gallery and remind him of the seriousness of the oath that he is about to take. And if he commits perjury he will be punished.

Our fathers wrestled over treaties they entered into with Hindus or Muslims. Those people called on the name of Allah or another god. Could a Christian co-operate in making such a treaty? One party was invoking the name of one god or an idol. Our fathers searched the Scriptures and noted how Isaac entered into a covenant with Abimelech, king of the Philistines and they sealed that covenant with each other by a ceremonial vow (Gen.26:31). Jacob did the same with Laban though they did not swear in the name of the same God (Gen. 31:51-54). Israel could not swear by the name of any God but Jehovah. They would call down judgment upon themselves if they invoked foreign gods. But outside of Israel things were different. We have in common with unbelievers light and water and land and a currency and the protection of international treaties and cities and war and peace and trade. So you must regulate certain matters in common. So often an oath is necessary. “If one party swears an oath in the name of his false god, then that is his sin, but we may remind him of the declarations he made under oath before his god” (op cit, Douma, p.94).

We are not of the world but we are in the world. The Saviour has specifically prayed that we be not taken out of the world. We can tolerate living in the same street as atheists and Muslims and people who are not married and idol-worshippers and crooks! But in the congregation those beliefs and behaviour are unacceptable. In the local law court we would accept a Muslim who told the truth with his hand upon the Koran. We have to take seriously the evidence of a man who said “so help me God” but whose entire life was lived in disaffiliation from this God. That is his sin. It is the duty of magistrates and judges, whether they are believers or not, to respect the oath and its consequences as they sought to be just.

Think again of those Christians who have made an oath to uphold the law – a policeman, a magistrate, a politician, a member of the medical profession, a social worker – and he or she is confronted with choices that go against his or her own convictions. They find himself almost entangled with evil. Are they not much better in withdrawing from that whole world?

I think the answer lies in being convinced that the oath one swears to be loyal to the nation does not mean that at every point one agrees with terms or the laws of the land. It that was the interpretation then no one at all could make such a promise. There is scarcely a law that has unanimous consent. Every Christian is fighting to change many laws, but the oath you swear means you respect the law that is in force. There is the law that permits the abortion of the unborn child, and another that does not make a criminal offence sexual relations between a 16 year-old girl and a man much older. A Christian will not like such practices but his oath of office mean that he will respect those laws. As long as they are in force he must uphold them. If he blocks them then he comes into conflict with the oath of office he has made. It is legal to sell pornography. If he is a Christian bookseller he will choose not to sell it. If he is a Christian policeman he will maintain the right of a bookseller to sell the degrading material. The Christian policeman or politician cannot take it upon himself to clear out the racks of pornographic magazines. No matter how morally justified such an action would be, or howsoever much other Christians would approve of his courage in carrying the magazines out of the shop and trying to set them on fire there is a law that forbids him doing that and he has sworn an oath to uphold the law.

The crisis arises when the law commands you to engage in godlessness and criminality. Daniel and his companions may have sworn to uphold Nebuchadnezzar’s reign in Babylon, but when the Old Testament Christians were compelled to fall down and worship the great idol then it was time to defy the law. They could not plead, “orders, orders, orders, full stop.” “The oath of office does not require blind obedience, and precisely because we invoke God’s name in such an oath, we realise that he is the highest and final Judge of good and evil to who we must render absolute obedience” (op cit Douma, p.96). One can swear an oath of allegiance to most states in the world today but the oath of allegiance to Pol Pot and the Khymer Rouge becomes a sacrilege of God’s name. We must keep oaths and vows we have made to our own hurt (Ps. 15:4), but we are exempt from oaths that dishonour God and hurt our neighbour. If that is the price of staying in office we must resign.

5 Speaking Plainly.

“Let your ‘Yes’ be yes, and your ‘No,’ be no, or you will be condemned” (v.12). This is a demand for plain speaking. You could not believe many of the people of James’s day even when they swore oaths on the graves of their parents or that they might drop dead if what they said was not true. It was a civilisation in which everybody told lies. The reputation of the inhabitants of the island of Crete was so bad that a proverb about them was quoted by the apostle Paul in the New Testament – “Cretans are always liars” (Titus 1:12), and Paul comments, “This testimony is true.” Some of these people had brought this lying spirit with them into the kingdom of God, and in these verses James is exhorting the New Testament church always to be committed by what they have actually said. They only needed to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ and that was all. Part of the credibility that a Christians gains for his Lord is that even to his own hurt a Christian tells the truth. Mary Kenny the Irish Catholic journalist tells of growing up in the south of Ireland in the 1940’s when the Protestants had a reputation for not blaspheming and for telling the truth. She would be reminded of this at judicious times by her mother. It must have been like that as the steady battle with paganism took place in the early centuries.

Today marriage vows, contracts between sellers and purchasers, business relationships between employer and employee are all frequently broken. Our lives are littered with promises which men fail to keep. Malice, bad management, self-seeking, sheer carelessness all mean a man’s ‘Yes’ is no and his ‘No’ is yes. We let down those who depend upon us the most. We don’t take our own words seriously. But the Bible does. James says that if our ‘Yes’ is not yes then we’ll be condemned. God requires full faithfulness of our vows. God himself is absolutely trustworthy. What he says he does. When the Lord Jesus came into this world he said, “I am the truth.” All he said was true. All we say must be true.

What James is condemning is irreverent swearing, needless swearing, disguised swearing and surreptitious swearing. Men were calling upon the name of God to secure credit for their speech. Their simple word was not enough: their word was suspect. Our Lord and James in our text are pleading for simplicity, honesty, forthrightness of expression in the interest of truth and truthfulness. A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ should be enough for credit. John Murray says, “Our Lord came to bear witness to the truth, and his kingdom is one in which the sanctity of truth is paramount. The mark of truth is chastity of speech. If we are truthful and if our tongues are mellowed by the love of truth, we shall not need to embellish and reinforce our affirmations, denials, and promises by expressions which are the coinage of profanity and ultimately of untruthfulness” (“Principles of Conduct”, p.173). That is the context in which we assess James’ teaching, and then his words are full of meaning, “Let your ‘yes’ be yes, and your ‘No’ no, or you will be condemned.”

God is there in every conversation, and transaction, whether his name is mentioned or not. So all promises are sacred, and must be kept. Children know this, and feel it very strongly. “Daddy you promised,” they say reproachfully, holding us to our words. It is tragic that adults so often forget.

6 The Condemnation of the Swearer.

The text ends with a solemn divine warning. It brings the swearer to the Day of Judgment. For every idle word we must give account. It is by our words we are justified and by our words we are condemned. Out of our own mouths we shall be judged. Then what hope is there for any of us? Who has not sworn? Who has not cursed? Who has not deceived his wife or her husband with vain words? We have gone astray from the womb speaking lies. What lies before us? Condemnation. Will heaven be full of swearers? Will there be liars sauntering on the corners of the streets of gold? No not one.
There is a city bright,
Closed are its gates to sin.
Naught that defileth
Shall ever enter in.
Then where is any hope? It is found in one who never cursed. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (I Peter 2:22). Peter is speaking of someone he knew well, whose words in their millions he had heard for three years. The holy Lord Jesus Christ was utterly without deceit. Yet this same Jesus was cursed by God his Father. He never cursed yet he was cursed by God. How is this? Where lies the justice of this? Does cosmic malice reign? The apostle Paul answers in Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’.” For us cursers he became a curse. For us liars he bore the total condemnation of a God of truth. He hung on Calvary’s tree bearing our accursed judgment. Men cursed and mocked him as a liar and blasphemer. But on the third day he was raised from the dead. Vindicated! God was saying in the resurrection, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The curse was his that redemption might be ours.

Do you believe this? Great. But is this your only hope in life and death? John Newton called himself ‘the old African blasphemer.’ There was redemption for him because he cast himself on the mercy of God. He put all his trust in the one who hung on the tree. He believed that through that death a full pardon for all his foul language and many deceits was proved. The Lamb of God had taken away the sin of the world. You too must go there, to that place where sins are washed away, where the innocent accursed one bought for us forgiveness and reconciled a holy God to us, as he stood in our place and bore our curse. The condemnation his and the pardon ours. That is the great transaction that the good news of the Lord Jesus brings to every and any liar and covenant-breaker and foul-mouthed swearer who will but turn in sorrow and repentance from that behaviour and fall upon the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. This is what you must do today, without further delay. Close with him as he is here and offering to you his royal pardon. You have taken his name in vain, but he will forgive, if you but trust in Jesus Christ.

February 28 1999 Geoffrey Thomas